Progressive white people were put on notice Tuesday evening by author and racial justice expert Robin DiAngelo. She spoke with Boston Public Library President David Leonard about the arrogant, insidious nature of racism perpetrated most often by white allies of people of color.

“We are so sure it’s not us,” she said, “We credential all the ways we’re not racists. Why do we send (people of color) home exhausted from work every day?”

DiAngelo, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Washington, coined the term “white fragility” in a 2011 academic article that has since influenced the international dialogue on race. Her two latest books are “White Fragility” and “Nice Racism.”

The publication of "White Fragility" as a book in 2018 drew the public's attention to DiAngelo’s work. Leonard mentioned that “White Fragility” is one of the most borrowed books from the Boston Public Library’s antiracist reading list since the killing of George Floyd in May, 2020.

You can see DiAngelo’s entire talk, recorded at the Boston Public Library by GBH Forum Network.

What is white fragility?

DiAngelo says the term “white fragility” is not about weakness. She sees it more like a bomb, easy to trigger with great potential to do harm. “I find it to be a really effective form of everyday white social control. I'm going to make it so punitive and miserable for you to call me out… that you more often than not will just choose not to go there. And so you stay in your place. I get to stay in mine. So, it's not a benign fragility,” she explained.

DiAngelo confided to Leonard that she tries to be "less white," in the sense of white being “oppressive in the ways that I have been socialized as a white person: to be oblivious, to be racially ignorant, but also arrogant, to be apathetic, to be silent, to privilege another white person's feelings, to feel superior.”

She added, “Nobody grows up in this country not knowing it's better to be white.”